Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer
Gardener caring for healthy tree inside a woman

Beginner’s Mind and Cancer Mind

Mindfulness has become a very popular concept in recent years as a means of relaxation and remaining anchored in the present moment. It originated in Zen Buddhism as a way to focus on the breath and to be present in this very moment. Mindfulness-based stress reductions classes further popularized the idea based on the work of Dr. Jon Kabat Zinn and other practitioners.

How to remain in the present moment

Many cancer centers offer courses on mindfulness for patients and families. Mindfulness is essentially learning how to meditate and remain in the present moment to help alleviate anxiety and fear. It is a useful skill for life in general but especially when facing serious medical challenges.

A mind free of expectations

A key concept in Zen Buddhism and in mindfulness is the idea of a “beginner’s mind.” It is the idea of coming to any moment with a mind free of expectations and expertise. I think it is best described by the Zen Buddhist teacher, Shunryu Suzuki, in the following quote:

“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.”

This is useful wisdom for any of us in any situation. It is a helpful lens through which to view our busy minds from a new perspective. I love the idea and the concept of beginner’s mind.

What is cancer mind?

In that spirit, I also try to cultivate what I have come to call “cancer mind.” Cancer mind is a way of reminding myself how good life is on the days when I am not dealing head-on with cancer. I remember how incredibly challenging life felt when cancer was part of my world every day. And what a relief it was when there was a reprieve from it.

In losing my first husband to cancer, I have become acutely aware that I will at some point lose everyone I love. And I too will be lost to this world at some point. And for each us, there may be illness involved before that happens.

Finding peace

When I think about all of that, I come back to the present moment – a peaceful Sunday with some holiday chores and holiday fun – and I am reminded how wonderful it is to simply have a day like that. Every moment we have that can be dedicated to fun with family or friends should be dedicated to fun. Worries about bills or chores or small resentments are simply a waste of precious time and energy. We will all have big challenges at some point. That is guaranteed – whether it’s cancer or something else.

In the meantime, how about a bit of beginner’s mind and cancer mind to put things in perspective and bring you some peace today?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.